Famous victory part of a winning habit
At 1.40pm on the hottest day of the tour, two sets of Indian players gathered around each set of stumps at Kingsmead. Cheteshwar Pujara had just produced a fine fielding effort at forward short leg, running out the last man, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who had only as much as overbalanced while keeping out a full delivery. In a flash, Pujara fielded and hit the stumps direct. Everybody was awaiting the third umpire's verdict, but the Indians wanted to be close to the stumps. Even before the third umpires' decision could be relayed, a signal came from the dressing room. Tsotsobe was short, the Test was won, another hoodoo venue was conquered, and the stumps came out.
Harbhajan Singh plucked the first one. Zaheer Khan, the architect of the bowling revival, got another. Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni got one each too. The Man of the Match, VVS Laxman, was in the dressing room, nursing the bad back that has failed to keep him from delivering three match-winning knocks in second innings this year, and another to save one. The celebrations, though, weren't over the top. This might have been only their second win in this country, these might have been the most alien of conditions for them, they might have proved many a critic wrong with this one, but the team likes to believe this is more of a routine affair than the away wins in the past.
Four years ago, when India won at the Wanderers, they ran around the field pouring soft drinks over each other. One could sense that perhaps they had exceeded their own expectations. This one was calmer, not nearly as emotional, despite the debacle in Centurion. Most of the fun was had before the win. Paul Harris, who had things to say about Sreesanth in the press, walked out to a slow clap from the bowler. Harris was later cornered and given a nice dosage of short deliveries by Ishant Sharma, who - when he was batting - had the South African side in his ear as he awaited the third umpire's decision. Harris held his ground well, gutting it out for close to an hour, but Zaheer's away-going delivery to take the top of his off stump would have been too good even for specialist batsmen.
Before that Zaheer worked over Dale Steyn, welcoming him with a bouncer, and toying around before proceeding to do him with an away-moving delivery from round the stumps. Zaheer had faced a rough time himself when adding 70 - the exact number of runs he added for the same wicket from the same score with Laxman during the Wanderers win - for the eighth wicket. He was hit on the helmet by Steyn, and was seen in argument with the opposition captain when he swung and missed at Tsotsobe.
Even before that, Sreesanth produced perhaps the image of the series. Technically Jacques Kallis is as good as they come, but here he was, both feet in the air, bent almost parallel to the ground, the back arched spectacularly to keep his head out of harm's way, the bottom hand off the bat, forming a reversed human C. Still the ball bounced so high from just back of a length that it took the top wrist and ballooned for an easy catch to gully. By the time an X-ray revealed that Kallis only had a soft tissue bruise, the game was over as a contest.
However, when the victory came, India's fourth such response to innings defeats over the last three years, they were back to normal, suggesting there was no big deal about it. Dhoni later said every win is special, be it Kanpur, Kolkata or Kingsmead. Don't believe him. This team was under the pump after Centurion. Even those who have witnessed their comebacks over the last two years doubted if they would be able to do so against South Africa in South Africa - particularly after they won the toss on an overcast morning, and found that the conditions were even more difficult than in Centurion where they were bowled out for 136. Those who have not witnessed their comebacks ridiculed their No. 1 ranking.
This one has to rank alongside Perth 2008, Trent Bridge 2007, Jamaica 2006, Wanderers 2006, Galle 2008 and P Sara 2010. Some might argue that Perth was a bigger show of character because they were coming back from an acrimonious nail-biter that had put them 0-2 behind, but perhaps more was at stake here.
There are common themes too. Like here, Wanderers, Perth, Trent Bridge and P Sara featured lower-order contributions and Laxman, even though he didn't necessarily run away with the honours. Like here, Zaheer led the bowling at Trent Bridge and Wanderers. Here Zaheer did the job Anil Kumble did in Jamaica and Galle, not necessarily taking five-fors but providing the bowling unit with some control. Except for Galle and P Sara, all have been bowling tracks, a traditional weakness.
Perhaps the celebrations weren't wild because the team doesn't want to look back. It wants to look ahead to Cape Town, where, on a turning track four years ago, they squandered an opportunity to win a series in South Africa. How well they do there in three days' time will be an indicator as to whether Kingsmead-like wins have indeed become a routine affair for India.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo